Mysterious glowing atmospheric light named as ‘Steve’

Mysterious glowing atmospheric light named as ‘Steve’

A team of researchers led by University of Calgary associate professor Eric Donovan has given a newly discovered atmospheric phenomenon - a mysterious glowing light - the name ‘Steve’.

Some of you might assume that the newly discovered phenomenon Steve is named after the theoretical physicist Steven Weinberg, but the Facebook group Alberta Aurora Chasers were actually inspired by a scene in the movie Over the Hedge, in which a character gives a hedge this name in order to make it seem less fearsome.

As electrons hit different gases, they emit various colours of light, generating what are known as the Southern and Northern lights. Protons also hit the gases, but while the electrons they hit leads light to spill down, and the wavelengths released by the proton collisions themselves are not visible.

Donovan said he estimated that the phenomenon Steve had to be something else. So they combined information on Steve with data collected by the ESA's Swarm satellites.

Sharing their findings, Donovan said, “As the satellite flew straight though Steve, data from the electric field instrument showed very clear changes … the data revealed a 25 kilometre (15.5 mile) wide ribbon of gas flowing westwards at about 6 km/s (3.7 miles per second) compared to a speed of about 10 m/s (32.8 feet per second) either side of the ribbon.”

While little else is presently known about the Steve phenomenon, Prof. Donovan and his team said that a surprising aspect of the newly discovered phenomenon is how often it appeared.